The Howard S. Billings High School Blazers ended their first football season in 50 years on a high note, defeating Monseigneur Euclide-Theberge 28-27 in overtime in the final of a regional playdown Saturday afternoon at Billings’ field in Chateauguay.
The Blazers erased 7-0 and 14-7 deficits to win the regional playoff for the third- through sixth-place conference teams, a win head coach Luc Pelland revelled in after the game.
The first- and second-place teams in the Monteregie Division 3 league played in provincial playoff brackets.
“This win is a credit to every single one of these kids, from top to bottom on the roster,” said Pelland, who doubles as a math teacher at the school. “We had 31 kids on our roster and 18 had never played football before. This is a credit to all their hard work.”
With three Kahnawake students on the roster, the Blazers tapped into local football talent in the trenches with starting offensive tackle Pryce Stacey, backup defensive lineman and special-teams demon Onweteshon Deer, and backup offensive- and defensive-line swingman Wishe Bush, Jr.
“You know what, of those three guys, only Pryce had played any football before they joined us, but all three of them worked and worked and worked and made themselves integral parts of the team. They are all three incredibly tough, and never, ever complained. They were always at practice and they can say they are now football players, no doubt about that,” Pelland said. “Watching them progress – especially Bush and Deer, who had never played football – well, seeing that kind of progress is why you coach football in the first place.”
Pelland said it was a great first step for the program, which he hopes to build into a championship contender next season.
“We have some good players coming back, but we had a lot of seniors and it’s going to be hard to replace that leadership. I think that we’re building a culture, though, and that should prove to have benefits for the program going forward,” he said. “We’ve put down a base. The kids understand how you have to compete to have success playing football. It’s a good start.”
The regional consolation-final victory was enough to give the Blazers a 7-3 record in their return to the gridiron after five decades away.
The Blazers returned to action after 50 years partly through provincial-government grants for programs aimed at keeping boys in school as well as for athletic facilities, as well as fundraising by the school and the students themselves.
“There was a fair bit of fundraising from our end, too,” said Pelland. “Now, it’s up to us to keep it going,” after the initial equipment purchase, which always represents the biggest hurdle to fielding a football team.
“In great part, what paid for the first year was a combination of those three factors. That got us off the ground. Now, we have to keep it going,” Pelland added.
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase